In Las Vegas, Harris addresses relief for Latinos amid pandemic


Bridget Bennett / The New York Times

Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, departs after a meeting with community members at Rafael Rivera Community Center in Las Vegas, Sept. 15, 2020.

Tue, Sep 15, 2020 (8:45 p.m.)

Dulce Valencia’s last semester at UNLV isn’t going the way she imagined.

She’s majoring in theater studies, but with theaters shuttered because of the pandemic, she’s worried about getting a job afterward.

And, to make matters worse, she said one of her professors told the class he was scared of dying from COVID-19. She wishes she could be enjoying her last few months of college, but “instead, I’m scared,” she said.

Valencia expressed concerns about learning during the pandemic and high college-student debt during a roundtable discussion Tuesday in Las Vegas with Sen. Kamala Harris, the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Harris outlined the campaign’s plan for Valencia on higher education, including making two-year colleges free and making tuition free at four-year public for families making under $125,000 a year.

Local activists and leaders from the Latino community participated in the event, including Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, Tacotarian restaurant owner Regina Simmons, and Strip employee Eddie Ramos, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. The event was moderated by Dreamer Astrid Silva, the executive director of Dream Big Nevada.

Harris also touched on business relief, immigration reform and health care. Simmons said restaurant owners need help to make it through the pandemic via additional federal grants or loans.

“We need leadership,” Simmons said. “We need someone to guide us and help us through this.”

Harris outlined the campaign’s position on business aid, including paid leave for employees and funding for personal protective gear. For a business to bounce back, customers and employees have to feel comfortable showing up at the storefront knowing they are safe from the virus, Harris said.

“The reality is, it’s so much bigger than just reopening your doors,” she said.

The visit was focused on the impact of the ongoing pandemic on the state’s Latino community, which, like many communities of color, has been hit hard by the virus.

According to the Biden campaign, Latinos account for 25% of local coronavirus cases in Las Vegas, and the Latino unemployment rate in the state was 30% in the second quarter of the year.

Hispanic and Latino voters are a powerful bloc in Nevada, and one which likely gave Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders his win over Biden in the state’s Democratic caucus in February.

Harris arrived in Las Vegas the same day she had visited California to see the devastation caused by the ongoing wildfires. The stop was the most high-profile event in the Democratic campaign since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden has not visited the state since the state has put restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, which drew criticism from Republicans.

“It makes perfect sense that after Joe Biden’s trouncing in the Nevada Democrats’ caucus that he would want to steer clear of the Silver State,” Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald said in a statement. “Nevadans understand how important this election is and Biden sending out Harris, who couldn’t even make it to Caucus Day, shows just how little he cares about Nevada.”

The event Tuesday was in marked contrast to President Trump’s rally held in Henderson on Sunday. That event saw thousands of supporters crowd inside Xtreme Manufacturing with limited face coverings, a move that has drawn major concern from epidemiologists and that went against Nevada mandates and recommendations from the White House.

Harris’ event was held with essentially no audience, and had around 30 staff members and members of the media in the room, all masked. Harris went after Trump’s decision to hold a mass rally in Henderson, calling the president unconcerned with the ramifications of the event. “He brought thousands of people together and wasn’t concerned whether or not they were wearing masks or socially distanced,” she said.

She also criticized the president for his recently released remarks made in a March interview with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward revealing he wanted to play down the severity of the coronavirus and accusing him of “playing politics with the American people.”

“(Biden) and I are very clear that we have a president of the United States in Donald Trump who has misled the American people, who has deceived the American people about the seriousness of this virus,” Harris said.

Harris ended her remarks defining differences between Biden and Trump, and said that Trump was pushing “fear tactics” in communities around the country, especially the immigrant community.

“He knows that when people vote, things change, and so let that be a reminder to us about the power of our vote,” she said. “It’s so powerful that some people would put in place all these obstacles to prevent us from voting.”

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